The Florida State defense struggled quite a bit during the 2014 season, and a large part of that was not being able to get off the field on third down. The Seminoles allowed teams to convert 43.9-percent of their third down tries. This season the Seminoles are doing a much better job of getting off the field when they're given the chance. They have only allowed third down conversions on 22.2-percent of the tries so far this season.
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher believes that winning on first and second down has been the key to winning third down.
"Well, that's the other thing," Fisher said. "We are in a lot better down and distances to rush the passer, which are very critical, too. We are doing a much better job on first down, you're exactly right. To put them in third-and-long, second-and-longs allow you to do those things."
Not being able to win on the early downs was a major problem in 2014, and it showed in how worn down the defense was at the end of the season. The defense was only able to force 38 three-and-outs last season, 18 of which came in the first five games. Over the last nine games the Seminoles were only able to force 20 three-and-outs and only forced more than two against Virginia.
This season Florida State is doing a much better job of getting their defense off the field. The Seminoles have forced 17 three-and-outs over the first three games, including 7 against South Florida. They are forcing three-and-outs 44.7-percent of the time and averaging 5.67 three-and-outs per game, which is currently 17th in the country.
Florida State has struggled with field position over the first three games due to some poor special teams play. He knows how much worse they field position they would have had if they weren't able to force those three and outs.
"It does big time," Fisher said. "It goes back to field position. That's why you have to cover kicks. It's important that when you cover kicks and get field position that you get three-and-outs... Those three-and-outs are critical."
You couple the improved third down defense with the increased depth and the Florida State defense is clearly not going to be as worn down as they were last year. That will become a big factor as the Seminoles start their nine game stretch without a bye.